Four Ways To Get The Most Out of Author Conferences

Thursday, January 19, 2017

As much fun as it is to meet and mingle with associates—or as much of a challenge as it is if you’re a more introverted writer—conferences are often daunting because they’re intense.

A good author conference throws a lot of highly valuable information at you in a concentrated amount of time. That necessary time factor means stress. And stress means you’re getting less benefit, not more. So here are my top four tips for handling the strain of an author conference and coming out smarter, inspired—and “sober,” not drunk on a deluge of commentary and info.

1. Don’t try to get it all.

The single most common line I hear at the writers’ and industry conferences I program and cover is, “My head is spinning!”

This is not great news. If your head is spinning, it means that you’re trying too hard to latch on to every bit of news and guidance coming to you—which puts you on overload. You’ll get more from the experience if you can simply stay alert, listen, but don’t try to sort it all on the spot. That comes later.

2. Write it all down.

There are two reasons that reporters take notes. One is to grab quotes from interview subjects or press-conference speakers, yes. But the other is that we listen better when we write down what we’re hearing.

The best thing you can do to stop your mind from trying to apply every comment coming from the stage to your own career all day—which will have you ready to swing from a hotel ballroom chandelier by the end of the conference—is to take along a journaling notebook and just write what you hear. All day. Key words. Don’t examine them too hard, don’t get stuck on one phrase or another. Free yourself from the responsibility of understanding. That comes later as your mind figures out the best parts of what you’ve heard at the conference.

3. Watch for patterns.

Big-picture points, over-arching concepts. In any good conference, you’re going to start hearing themes. Let them come to you.

At Digital Book World (DBW) Indie Author Conference, for example, the phrase, the new professional author was used a lot. That’s because we see a strong drive toward meticulous professionalism as the key for indie success today in a super-crowded market. Every time you hear one of these phrases, write it, note it, don’t dwell on it. In your thoughts after the conference, such major ideas will form the structure on which you hang all your other takeaways.

4. Leave your ego at the door.

This one is hard for all of us. But let me put it to you this way: would you rather be known as the author who always wears those big flowered hats at conferences?—or as the author who’s selling books through the roof?

For a time, there was a popular idea among authors that “standing out” and “getting noticed” was something important at an author conference. Wrong. You’re not the show. The speakers are. You’re there to absorb what those experts know (just absorb, remember, don’t struggle to analyze it). Take the performance pressure off yourself. You’ll pick up so much more if you leave the hat at home.

Bottom lines for author conferences:

  • Enjoy the social contact as you can, of course.
  • Grab business cards if you’d like to be in touch with folks you meet.
  • Take note of author-service vendors and representatives you think have something useful to add to your career.
  • Compare notes with colleagues over lunches and in coffee breaks.

But remember: the conference is not where you ply your career. That’s later. The conference is where you gather ideas, concepts, tools, and energy for the career you’ll be rolling out when you get back to your desk. Keep your soul in the room, as the transcendentalists like to say, and just take it in. You’ll know what to do with it as soon as you head home.


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Porter Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in book publishing. Formerly with CNN, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media, he is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, founded by the German Book Office New York, the magazine for the international publishing industry. With Jane Friedman, he produces The Hot Sheet publishing-industry newsletter, providing expert analysis and interpretation in a private subscriptionemail newsletter, expressly devised to give authors the news insights they need, free of agenda and bias. Anderson also writes the #MusicForWriters series on contemporary composers for Thought Catalog.